Lucy Ferriss

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I've called this blog "Travelin' Thoughts" in the past, because I kept it mostly as a journal to record impressions of new places and cultures. But in a way, it's still a place for traveling thoughts--ideas that move through and past me, and out into the world. Some of these are literary, some just about life. It's a good place to open up the conversation, and I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Being Blind, Illegal, and Anglophone in Paris

March 11, 2018

Even Paris can be tiresome when you've got a nasty chest cold and your head spins every time you get out of bed. I've been more or less house-bound except for teaching duties all week. But it's given me a chance to pull together some reflections that might otherwise flit away. Like, for instance, the blind Iranian masseur.

The story begins with the métro. And I have to say, I'm now wielding the Paris transportation system the way I wield the various shortcuts and traffic jams in and around Hartford. I may make mistakes, but for the most part I know what works best and how to weigh the alternatives, regardless of where I need to go. So a couple of weeks back, Don & I were returning from the Marché des Producteurs, where we'd gone with my buddy Rod Stein, our market trolley heaped high with goodies. We were changing trains, as I often do, at Concorde. Ahead of us, at the bottom of a short flight of steps, a young man was saying goodbye in English to a couple that had clearly helped him -- because, as we quickly saw, he was blind. As soon as the couple left, he said, fairly loudly, in English, "Is there anyone who speaks English and can help me?"

I hurried down the steps and took his arm. "I speak English," I said, "and I can help you."

Don followed us as the train came in at the platform; the young man needed help finding the door. I stepped on with him, and we chatted until he got off at Pigalle. What was he doing in Paris? He was studying. Studying what? Well, he wasn't really studying. He would be studying, once he could get his paper in order. Where was he from? Iran. And once his papers were in order? He would study massage, he said. Massage is a good career for a blind person.

I'd never thought about that. Don sat toward the back of the car with our groceries, and when I explained that my husband was on the train with us, the young man assured me how lucky my husband was, how lucky my children were to have me. In this he reminded me of the people I met in Pakistan, for whom concern over a woman's marital & maternal status comes first. Why was he speaking English? Well, he'd had trouble learning French. He couldn't find a good teacher. And he liked Americans. Americans were always so helpful.

I chuckled a little, at this. Reminded him that our current government was not being particularly welcoming of Iranians at the moment. He wasn't crazy about his government, either. We agreed that when each of our countries got rid of their current governments, we would get together and celebrate. "I will find you," he said, "and we will have a big party."

He was a soft-looking man, his eyes half-lidded and unfocused, with a scruffy beard and a rosebud mouth. I tried to imagine what it must be like for him to be in this city, unable to see, unable to understand the language, hoping for some kind of legal toehold. He counted the stops until he had to get off. "I have the whole map of the Paris métro system in my head," he said. "I have so many things in my head. You have no idea, how big my head is."

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